Groups push for stricter law on porn Alliance to hold rally in front of chambers of County Council today

Panel eyeing amended bill

Critics say measure would be weakest in Baltimore-D.C. region

November 24, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

A coalition of some of Ellicott City's largest civic associations, a local church and an anti-pornography group is organizing a rally to push for stronger restrictions against adult entertainment businesses than those in a bill the Howard County Council will consider tonight.

The Howard County Alliance to Maintain Community Values -- the group coordinating the demonstration at 7 p.m. in front of County Council chambers -- asserts that the proposed legislation would be the weakest in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

"The perception was that a hard line was going to be taken to protect communities," said Barbara Sieg, one of the alliance's organizers and a member of St. John's Community Association. "But this doesn't seem to be the best for families and family-oriented businesses in Howard County."

The alliance is composed of the Franklin Goodridge Jr.-led Men Against Pornography, the Seventh-day Adventist Church and several civic groups -- including St. John's, which represents 950 homes, and Valley Mede, which represents 700 homes.

The bill the alliance wants -- requiring adult stores to be 1,000 feet from residences and in districts zoned for heavy industry, known as M2 -- would keep adult stores out of Ellicott City but would allow them in Elkridge and other areas on the U.S. 1 corridor where the county's M2 zoning is concentrated. That draws fire from residents of those areas.

"The concern is that with a 1,000-foot setback and inclusion of the M2 districts, the setback is so extreme that it only puts these types of businesses in M2," said Kevin Doyle, who chairs the planning and zoning committee for the Elkridge Community Association, which is not a member of the alliance. "We're not willing to see that."

Since the County Council took up the issue of restricting the adult businesses in August, it has been juggling the concerns of residents in Ellicott City, Elkridge and other communities along U.S. 1, as well as constitutional protections against legislation that effectively bans the businesses.

The bill that emerged, after several amendments, would require adult book and video stores, adult movie theaters and adult live entertainment clubs to be at least 400 feet from residential areas and in general business zones, also known as B1 and B2 districts.

In Anne Arundel, Harford and Prince George's counties, adult businesses are required to be at least 1,000 feet from homes and places of congregation, such as schools, churches and parks. In Montgomery, the setback is 500 feet. Baltimore County officials are proposing a 1,000-foot requirement.

The proposed Howard County bill would allow the businesses in some shopping centers along U.S. 40 in Ellicott City, which concerns the alliance and others involved in the anti-pornography movement.

"People don't want to buy from stores near these adult businesses. You have men propositioning women, children playing in playgrounds with condoms there, a whole bunch of horrible things," said Jan LaRue, senior counsel for the National Law Center for Children and Families, a nonprofit organization that assists local jurisdictions in restricting adult business.

"The negative effects from these types of businesses don't dissipate unless they're at least 750 to 1,000 feet away from homes and other businesses," she said.

Republican state Sen. C. Edward Middlebrooks, who was the Anne Arundel County Council member instrumental in crafting that county's ordinance, agreed.

"I wouldn't want them in shopping centers and places that are going to have children and young adults visiting," said Middlebrooks, who represents Glen Burnie. "I don't think [the Howard County] bill is strong enough."

If Howard designates the heaviest commercial or industrial zones for adult businesses -- placing stores in remote locations far removed from residential areas -- it would get them out of Ellicott City while concentrating them in Elkridge, Savage and North Laurel.

Ellicott City residents "basically don't want them in their back yards and don't care if they dump them in someone else's back yard," said Tom Flynn, president of the North Laurel Civic Association, also not in the alliance.

But Penne Giuliani, another alliance organizer and a member of the Valley Mede Residents Association, is quick to downplay any territorial dispute.

"I don't think this is an issue of Route 1 vs. Route 40," she said. "This is something that affects the entire county."

County officials seem resigned to the fact that they will not be able to please everyone.

"We have five people here trying to craft a regulation to be as restrictive as possible without being thrown out in court," said Dennis R. Schrader, the North Laurel Republican who chairs the Howard council. "Maybe some folks won't be totally satisfied, but we have to stay focused on the objective."

Councilman Darrel E. Drown, whose district includes Ellicott City, said he wants to get some sort of law on the books as soon as possible.

"The longer we wait, the more we let someone else move in and set up shop," Drown said. "Then we're back to square one."

Either of the proposed laws would force the business that started this -- the Pack Shack, an adult magazine and video store on U.S. 40 that has been the focus of anti-pornography demonstrations -- to move because it is within 200 feet of the Normandy apartment complex. But it would have one year to relocate.

The county's other adult store, Adult Video & Books on U.S. 1 in Elkridge, also would be forced to close within a year because it is in an area zoned for manufacturing. The council will vote on the amendment next week.

"Where are we going to put them?" County Executive Charles I. Ecker asked. "It's a no-win situation, but I think what we have is as strong as we can legally make it."

Pub Date: 11/24/97

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